[SOLVED] Is it better to use Cache or CDN?

Issue

I was studying about browser performance when loading static files and this doubt has come.

Some people say that use CDN static files (i.e. Google Code, jQuery
latest, AJAX CDN,…) is better for performance, because it requests
from another domain than the whole web page.

Other manner to improve the performance is to set the Expires header
equal to some months later, forcing the browser to cache the static
files and cutting down the requests.

I’m wondering which manner is the best, thinking about performance and
if I may combine both.

Solution

Ultimately it is better to employ both techniques if you are doing web performance optimization (WPO) of a site, also known as front-end optimization (FEO). They can work amazingly hand in hand. Although if I had to pick one over the other I’d definitely pick caching any day. In fact I’d say it’s imperative that you setup proper resource caching for all web projects even if you are going to use a CDN.

Caching

Setting Expires headers and caching of resources is a must and should be done 100% of the time for your resources. There really is no excuse for not doing caching. On Apache this is super easy to config after enabling mod_expires.c and mod_headers.c. The HTML5 Boilerplate project has good implementation example in the .htaccess file and if your server is something else like nginx, lighttpd or IIS check out these other server configs.

Here’s a good read if anyone is interested in learning about caching: Mark Nottingham’s Caching Tutorial

Content Delivery Network

You mentioned Google Code, jQuery latest, AJAX CDN and I want to just touch on CDN in general including those you pay for and host your own resources on but the same applies if you are simply using the jquery hosted files cdn or loading something from http://cdnjs.com/ for example.

I would say a CDN is less important than setting server side header caching but a CDN can provide significant performance gains but your content delivery network performance will vary depending on the provider.

This is especially true if your traffic is a worldwide audience and the CDN provider has many worldwide edge/peer locations. It will also reduce your webhosting bandwidth significantly and cpu usage (a bit) since you’re offloading some of the work to the CDN to deliver resources.

A CDN can, in some rarer cases, cause a negative impact on performance if the latency of the CDN ends up being slower then your server. Also if you over optimize and employ too much parallelization of resources (using multi subdomains like cdn1, cdn2, cdn3, etc) it is possible to end up slowing down the user experience and cause overhead with extra DNS lookups. A good balance is needed here.

One other negative impact that can happen is if the CDN is down. It has happened, and will happen again. This is more true with free CDN. If the CDN goes down for whatever reason, so does your site. It is yet another potential single point of failure (SPOF). For javascript resources you can get clever and load the resource from the CDN and should it fail, for whatever the case, then detect and load a local copy. Here’s an example of loading jQuery from ajax.googleapis.com with a fallback (taken from the HTML5 Boilerplate):

<script src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.8.2/jquery.min.js"></script>
<script>window.jQuery || document.write('<script src="js/vendor/jquery-1.8.2.min.js"><\/script>')</script>

Besides obvious free API resources out there (jquery, google api, etc) if you’re using a CDN you may have to pay a fee for usage so it is going to add to hosting costs. Of course for some CDN you have to even pay extra to get access to certain locations, for example Asian nodes might be additional cost then North America.

Answered By – Anthony Hatzopoulos

Answer Checked By – Marilyn (BugsFixing Volunteer)

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